A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. If this is true then my journey began a few years back when I applied for my first passport at ITO, Delhi Centre. It was quite easy and cheap to get a passport in Delhi. Yes, cheap because I paid top dollar (Top Euro I mean) to get a new passport in Paris, France.
In June 2019, I had embarked upon a voyage for 17 days in Europe. On the seventh day, I was joined by a female friend in Paris. I will use her initials – VM. We had planned to stay in Paris for two days and then headed to Geneva, Chamonix and Milan. Italy was our last destination after six other countries. I often mention on my social media, a journey always plans some small surprises and so ours was planned right when we entered Milan, just not that small this time.
Before VM joined me, my trip was adventurous yet smooth but after she joined me… Darn, I am just trying the blame game. It was completely my fault but the trip was still amazing, even after the passport chaos that we went through. Moreover, are you even a true traveler if you haven’t lost your passport ever? maybe why not, there are smart people but anyway I got a wonderful story to share and learned an important lesson.
The story traces back to Chamonix, The French Alps. Chamonix is an extremely beautiful town in France near Italy’s frontier and hilariously popular for Europe’s best-known ski resorts. Mont Blanc is the main attraction but there are other mountains and beautiful sceneries all around the town. Since, it is a small town, we planned a one day trip only to see the exquisite Alps. Later in the evening, we had a Flixbus ticket for Milan around 19h.
We wandered in the town from one mountain to the other. The picturesque town with mountains on all side, covered in snow was something I had never seen. The awestruck beauty would have made me write a poem if I were alone, maybe next time. We wanted to climb one of the mountains but before being able to easily climb the Alps, the weather played its part. The stormy rain made us wait for hours as the cable car could not be operated in extreme weather conditions. Finally, when the stormy weather changed its course, I encountered the snow-covered beauty of Chamonix, powerful but kind.
The day was wonderful but exhausting. We walked around the town, got wet in the rain and had to wait for our bus for 3 hours. The weather turned way more blusterous. For around 3 hours, we stayed at the ticket counter due to heavy rain and cold wind. I had a sleeping bag that I and my friend were sharing. I mentioned all these information because fatigue is what I consider the reason for losing our passports. I was wet, cold and exhausted. We boarded the bus for Courmayeur, a small town in Italy just 20kms from French border. While leaving the bus, well not revealing how I lost it yet.
Passport Lost in Courmayeur, Italy.
Courmayeur is a small town in Italy, near the French border. It was here that I learned that I had lost our passports. For the first fifteen minutes, I panicked – normal human reaction to such blunder. I tried stupid things including calling the Italian police. If this had happened in India to a foreigner, I think the police would have easily recovered their passport. Almost same thing happened with my friend Bruno in Brazil (Brazil? I guess yeah) and the Brazilian police were quick to respond and he got his passport back while the Italian police didn’t do anything. We spoke to the French and English translators and to be honest they didn’t really try to help us otherwise they could easily get us our passports back from the Turin flixbus stand by contacting Turin Police station. We could have picked them up at Turin bus stand. Flixbus also did not help as we asked them for the contact detail of the driver but they refused to give it to us. The cops didn’t try to talk to FLixbus and asked us to follow the bus, lol. The Uber from Courmayeur to Turin was $ 450 or maybe 450Euros.
We had our next bus scheduled for Milan and Courmayeur was just a layover. The night was exhausting and scary on the bus. We had our flights back to Paris from Milan which we couldn’t take without our passports. At around 4 a.m., we arrived at the Milan bus station. The metro was still closed, so we stayed at the station for an hour. A thief was trying to get something out of a passenger’s pocket who got off from the bus. Earlier, he was troubling a couple and I assume that he was high on some drugs. The bus station was trashy and all the “clean” places were already taken. Milan was the only place we didn’t stay with a host. I booked an Airbnb so that we could get some sleep before going to the Indian Consulate.
In the evening, at 4 O’clock, we were at the Embassy. We were lucky that there was an Indian consulate in Milan as there are only two Indian consulate in Italy, one in Rome and the other one in Milan. I had already spoken to someone at the consulate in Milan and in Paris when it happened last night.
Passport recovery Option 1
The first option was to get an emergency passport to board the flight back to Paris or possibly India. In my understanding and after researching online, I discovered that emergency passports can only be used to return to one’s country of origin. The cost of the emergency passport was 2100rs each. We chose the second option. It was a bit risky but it seemed reasonable. I regret losing our flights for which I never got any refund. In addition, I had to make new arrangements to return to Paris from Milan.
As I was a student in France, and our visas were valid for months, we could apply for a new passport which according to the consulate might take 21 days. We opted for the new passport but the difficulty was – how could we go back to Paris and what if the officer at the border checkpoint asks us for our passport. We went to the Milan police station and lodged a complaint that we lost our passports and got a copy of that FIR to be used later for applying for new passports in Paris but also to help us cross border.
Meanwhile, we didn’t waste our visit at all. We visited some famous destinations in Milan which includes the cathedral- Duomo di Milano, the famous shopping lane and I bought a t-shirt and VM shopped something that I don’t remember. We also went to the famous Starbucks Reserve.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery showcases the theater of coffee roasting, brewing and mixology in a breath-taking environment in the epicenter of fashion and culture. The Milan Roastery was the first Starbucks location to feature an Arriviamo Bar. There are only six Starbucks Reserve in the world.
As we couldn’t take our flights without passport so I booked a bus from Milan to Lyon and then a train from Lyon to Paris where we were supposed to meet our two other friends Prachi and Meenakshi. They had their flight from New Delhi to Paris on 13th June.
We were at the Flixbus station to catch our bus without knowing that Traveling doesn’t decide on the number of surprises it offers, it can be anything, anytime and numerous. We were denied to board the bus without our passports. They were checking passports of each passenger and when it was us, they said “No passport no bus”. I waited until everyone got on the bus and talked to them politely and in my way. I am good at talking and persuading people. I have been doing it for a long time now. Traveling and meeting new people teaches you a lot and it is something I learned, to talk. Finally, they allowed me with my student Id card but they kept refusing for VM and she didn’t have any other identity proof, maybe some Indian id card but who gives a F about Indian ID cards in europe except Embassy. Somehow I managed to persuade them again to allow her on the bus. They told me that we will be questioned at the French-Italian border and we will have to leave the bus there if asked by the officers. I told them that we will talk to the officers at the border, what else I could say? I remember they said while agreeing “okay but the officer will not let her cross the border”.
In the bus, I was just hoping that we don’t have to face the Douane (border police). Generally, it depends on your route. For example, we entered Italian border and there was no border police to check anything but well, we had to face this one last obstacle. The officers entered the bus. One lady officer from the front door and a Monsieur from the back door. We were sitting in the corner last seat of the bus, extreme last. Before he could ask us, he asked a lady to leave the bus for some paper issues. Holy Fu** situation ( ** because my students read my blog too). I gave them my student id card and it was fine for me. We also showed him the FIR we launched in Milan. The officer asked us to wait while he went out to check something. Perhaps to discuss the situation with someone or to check our visa in the system (if it’s a possibility), I have no idea what he did but we were good to go. We could cross the border. The lady who left he asked to leave the bus, didn’t return though.
Now without taking so much time of yours, let me tell you how I lost the passports. I was exhausted in Chamonix due to weather, rain, cold and hiking in the mountains etc. We boarded the bus for Courmayeur (layover before Milan) just 20kms from the French border. I kept the passport wallet in the front pocket of the seat and when I left the bus, I forgot to take the wallet out and that’s how I lost some bank cards, my voter Id and passports.
It cost us around 121 Euros (9900rs) each to get a new passport in Paris plus the transportation from Rennes to Paris twice. It is not advisable to lose your passport in a foreign land :p
But if in case something like this happens, contact the nearest Indian embassy as soon as possible. The Indian embassy in Paris and Milan is quite responsive on their emergency contact number – +33 648340063 (Paris)
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